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Lindstrom sees the United Negro College Fund and the Rhodes scholarships as his models, and in order to win, Point candidates must prove both academic success and commitment to gay causes. Not surprisingly, many also have biographies resembling Lindstrom's--they come from conservative families that haven't immediately accepted them. Candidates must write an essay on "how you feel you have been marginalized because of your sexual orientation." When scholars were called upon to introduce themselves at the retreat, many offered heartbreaking stories of family repudiation. It was routine to hear sniffling during these presentations, especially from adults.
But when you talk to Point scholars when they aren't performing for donors, you meet kids who are doing a lot better than those plaints suggest. Some remain cut off from their families, but many have repaired relationships with even the most conservative parents. If you read the online Point bio for Matthew Vail, 19, for instance, it says he "sits alone" at family events, "not allowed to have even a gay friend participate in his family life." But in the months since Vail provided the information for that bio, his parents, who live in Gresham, Ore., have softened considerably, and his boyfriend, Jordaan, was actually staying with Vail's father while Vail was at the retreat. Several other scholars also said their online bios dwelled on old wounds and omitted evidence of resilience.
Even those point scholars with the darkest stories of adversity, like Emory's Bryan Olsen, seem more buoyant than Point lets on. I heard Olsen speak to Point donors twice, once in New York City and again in Michigan. Both times he said that after his Mormon family learned he was gay when he was 15, he was sent to a boot camp for wayward teens in Ensenada, Mexico. Olsen says the facility, Casa by the Sea, required residents to wear shoes without backs so they couldn't run. He says that as punishment for a three-meal hunger strike, he was forced to sit in a stress position--cross-legged, with his nose touching a wall--for two hours. Olsen's small face, which is framed by a pop-star haircut that makes him look as though he's still 15, scrunches with tears when he gets to the next part: "I could only come home when I wrote my parents and promised to be straight and Mormon." There were gasps in the room the first time I heard him tell that story.